CVS: We put the needle in “flu shot”

Flu shots: 90% smaller needleDoes this sign make you
want to get a flu shot? No?
Me neither.

Here’s the thing, CVS. Maybe it’s true that your smaller needles make injections less painful. But seeing the word “needles” in your sign just gave me an immediate, vivid picture of something sharp piercing my skin. Not only did I avert my eyes from your ad, I’m so distracted by the thought of a needle—of any size—that I ignore your other window ads that may have lured me in. (Particularly the “two-for-one candy bars” variety.)

Mentioning needles is like a supermarket saying, “Our chicken is salmonella-free!” or “We use an excellent slaughterhouse.” It’s a bad idea. Why? Here’s what happens: By even mentioning the offending word (Salmonella! Slaughterhouse!) the customer draws a subconscious association between your brand and the very thing you were trying to avoid. Our brains can work in cruel and mysterious ways.

The same weekend I spotted this sign, I got a flu shot reminder in the mail from my health insurance company. “Don’t wait until it’s too late,” it said, alongside a picture of a frail looking woman holding a tissue and squinting at a thermometer. That ad, at least, tried to make me afraid of getting the flu instead of the flu shot itself.

But the sign that worked for me in the end was down the street at Rite Aid. It said simply:

Flu shots. Insurance accepted. No wait.

So I rolled up my sleeve and got it over with. And I even bought myself a Snickers bar on the way out.

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